Nearly every football supporter plays the “if only” game, ruminating on the idea that only a history of cruel luck at key moments has prevented their team from enjoying a rather more elevated position in the football landscape than they have traditionally enjoyed.
In this book, Simon Turner adds flesh to the bones of this time-honoured notion, concocting detailed reports of major cup finals that might have happened if the football gods had shown themselves as more benevolent to some clubs and rather less so to others.
This renders his publisher’s assertion that the book is “fiercely original” as slightly fanciful, but Turner’s clear enthusiasm for his task makes this a mildly interesting, if lightweight, read and followers of the teams involved in this “alternative history” may be intrigued by the hypothetical outcomes.
Fans of Derby County will certainly be delighted to see that their commonly held belief that Brian Clough’s team of 1973 were the moral champions of Europe is fully vindicated here. Having now dispatched Juventus and their nefarious ways in the semi-final (Helmut Haller’s influence on his fellow German referee was not significant in this parallel universe), the Rams then go on to deny Ajax a hat-trick of wins in the competition by beating them in a tightly fought final in Belgrade in which Johan Cryuff was “strangely quiet”, rather emphasising that this is a work of fiction.
Leeds United are also given their place in the sun. However it is not a Don Revie-era team that lifts the European Cup (that kind of revisionism may have been unpalatable for most) but David O’Leary’s outfit of 2001, with Lee Bowyer “cementing his status as a Leeds idol” in providing a platform for this historic victory against a Bayern Munich team desperate to avenge their heart-breaking final defeat by Manchester United two years earlier.
The poor Germans fare no better in Turner’s virtual world at national level. They contrive to lose the 1990 World Cup semi-final to England via a late double strike by Gary Lineker, who then goes on to score an even later winner in the final against a stereotypically bad-tempered Argentina. There was a melee at the end, inevitably.
The Home Nations have been treated kindly here with an unfancied Scotland winning the inaugural World Cup in 1930, giving two-time Olympic champions Uruguay a beating in Montevideo and by doing so heaping a level of despair on the home crowd that the Uruguayans themselves brought to bear on Brazilians 20 years later. Oh, and might have England won the 1968 European Championship final against Italy – Turner’s narrative instincts turned to cliffhanger on this one as we (oh irony of ironies) await the goal-line judgement of a linesman to determine the result.
This kind of idle, wishful thinking encapsulates the book as a whole, and, while an amusing diversion, is a difficult one to fully endorse while dreaming is free.